June 13, 2021

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The RTX 3060 Ti Is the New Mid-Range GPU Champion

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Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo

With the RTX 3090, 3080, and 3070 graphics card launches now behind us, Nvidia has one more trick up its sleeve to close out 2020: the RTX 3060 Ti. Not quite a high-end graphics card and not quite a budget card, this latest addition to the 30-series family packs a bigger punch than any of the last-gen 20-series Super cards for an attractive $400.

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The RTX 2080 Super, by comparison, was $700 when it launched last July—and sure, gen-to-gen performance is supposed to improve as prices drop, but I’m still amazed by how good the performance per dollar is on these cards, especially with the major architectural improvements and faster ray tracing. The RTX 3060 Ti puts high-end performance into a mid-range package. The only problem with the RTX 3060 Ti is the same issue we’ve run into with the other 30-series cards: Will anyone actually be able to buy one?

The good news is that you have more time to wait for every review to come out so you can make a better-informed purchase—and if you’ve waited this long to see what kind of performance the RTX 3060 Ti will get you for $400, I’d say you’ve made a good choice. Its ray tracing performance is on par or better than AMD’s Radeon RX 6800, and it consistently cranks out great 1080p and 1440p non-ray tracing performance, though 4K is definitely a struggle (not surprising). The RTX 3060 Ti is about what I’d expect from a GPU like this compared to the rest in the series, and it’s an easy GPU to love.

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So here’s the deal: As we saw with the 30-series launch and with AMD’s Radeon RX 6800 XT/RX 6800 launch, scalpers have been quick to snatch up the latest graphics cards and attempt to sell them on eBay at a significant mark-up. It’s been a disaster. Hardware overall has been hard to come by this year, as we saw with the Xbox Series X/S and the PlayStation 5. Whatever steps these companies said they would take to prevent scalpers from buying up all the stock the second sales opened clearly haven’t worked. Global supply chain disruptions due to covid-19 haven’t helped, either. I suspect more people will be trying to get their hands on a RTX 3060 Ti because it has the best performance per dollar of any of the current-gen graphics cards. But if the current situation is any indication, many buyers could be SOL come launch day.

But if I was building a mid-range rig tomorrow—or sometime in the near future considering the stock situation will probably be more than questionable, but you get what I’m saying—the RTX 3060 Ti would be the graphics card I’d want in it, assuming I didn’t already own a RTX 2080 Super. The 3060 Ti has a nice performance bump over the 2080 Super, but compared to the RTX 2080 or RTX 2070 Super, the performance increase is more pronounced. Those who would benefit most from upgrading to this card would be anyone who’s still rockin’ a GTX 10-series, or even a RTX 2060 Super.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have an RTX 2080 Super on hand to test (and as such did not include that GPU in my benchmark charts), but I did have an RTX 2080 Ti and RTX 2070 Super on hand to retest. And per the older benchmarks I had on hand for the 2080 Super, the 3060 Ti does indeed pull ahead of it by about 10-30 fps, depending on the game. It’s dead even with the RTX 2080 Super in Division 2 and Hitman 2 at 1080p on Ultra, but miles ahead in Far Cry 5 and Forza Horizon 4. If you already have a RTX 2080 Super, spending $400 on the RTX 3060 Ti is probably not worth it, unless you really, really want better ray tracing performance and PCIe 4.0 support.

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Now, time for some actual numbers. My test bench included: an Intel Core i9-10900K, Asus ROG Maximus XII Extreme, 16 GB (8 GB x 2) G.Skill Trident Z Royal DDR4-3600 DRAM, Samsung 970 Evo 500 GB M.2 PCIe SSD, a Seasonic 1000W PSU, and a Corsair H150i Pro RGB 360mm AIO for cooling. The same configuration was used for comparing all GPUs.

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I was surprised how close the RTX 3060 Ti came in performance to the RTX 2080 Ti in some games—a testament to the power and efficiency of Nvidia’s new Ampere architecture, but also an indication that even the RTX 3060 Ti is still too powerful for one of the best desktop CPUs on the market; I noticed bottlenecking in Hitman 2 again. Aside from moving from a 12nm fabrication process to an 8nm, Nvidia also doubled the throughput on its RT Cores and Tensor Cores, which accelerate ray tracing and AI performance. The RTX 30-cards also support PCIe Gen4 and offer up to a 1.9X performance per watt improvement over the older Turing architecture.

All that is a massive gen-to-gen improvement for hundreds of dollars less than the previous generation; Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Forza Horizon 4, Far Cry 5, and Hitman 2 are the games that the RTX 3060 Ti was able to perform the closest to the RTX 2080 Ti at 1080p. That gap widened drastically as I went up in resolution, yet with a few exceptions, the RTX 3060 Ti pumped out well over 60 fps—often into the 100s—at 1080p and 1440p, and sometimes at 4K, but not consistently. If you absolutely must have better 4K performance, you might want to consider the 3070, which costs $100 more.

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When it comes to ray tracing, the RTX 3060 Ti is excellent for 1080p at the highest graphical setting, but that’s it. The GPU takes some big performance hits at 1440p and higher. However, if you’re keen on ray tracing, then enabling DLSS to bump up frame rates by an average of 5-10 fps will let you get the most out of this graphics card, other than overclocking it. You should be able to get over 60 fps on at least Metro Exodus at 1440p with DLSS enabled, if your rig is similar to my set-up.

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Additionally, Nvidia is working on its own version of Smart Access Memory (SAM)—or what AMD calls its ability to make its current-gen processors and graphics cards talk directly to one another instead of going solely through the DRAM. This lowers latency and also results in a frame rate boost in some games, but it’s not proprietary to AMD. The capability for resizable/larger BAR is part of the PCI Express specification on the motherboard, which can be enabled or disabled in the BIOS. Enabling that BAR setting in the BIOS is what lets CPUs and GPUs to directly talk to one another.

Nvidia’s hardware supports this, but it needs to be enabled on the graphics cards via a driver update, which the company plans to do in the future. Nvidia did not specify how long in the future, but a spokesperson told Gizmodo that it’s working on it internally and seeing similar results to AMD’s SAM. This would be separate from Nvidia’s fps-boosting DLSS tech, so it’s entirely possible the RTX 3060 Ti would be able to handle up to a 20 fps boost in DLSS-compatible games with Nvidia’s SAM version enabled.

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So if AMD GPUs can give you around a 10 fps boost in a game like Shadow of the Tomb Raider to top out at around 190 fps at 1080p with the RX 6800, then with Nvidia’s own SAM and DLSS enabled you’ll most likely exceed what the RTX 2080 Ti can do stock at the same resolution with the RTX 3060 Ti. This feature can be enabled for any game, too, unlike DLSS. Although I would not expect to see gains in every game, just like there weren’t significant gains in every game I tested with a Ryzen CPU and Radeon GPU.

But if Nvidia’s SAM version is just as good or better than AMD’s, then the GPU world gets even more complicated. If Nvidia can carry enough stock of the RTX 3060 Ti, I think it can capture a lot of buyers in time for its SAM update. AMD does not have a 3060 Ti equivalent yet either, so that’s another point to Nvidia. It may fall far behind the RX 6800 in non-ray tracing performance, but the RX 6800 is still no match for the RTX 3060 Ti with it turned on most of the time—not to mention the RX 6800 is $180 more than the RTX 3060 Ti. And with Cyberpunk 2077 just about to (finally) debut, I think most people should go with the GPU that gets the best ray tracing performance.

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READ ME

  • Performance per dollar hits the sweet spot.
  • Outperforms the Radeon RX 6800 in ray tracing.
  • Blows past the RTX 2070 Super in every metric.
  • Scalpers might scoop up all the stock.

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